OP RESTORE ORDER SITREP- Week Ending 7 December 2013

Situation Friendly Forces:

2 December:

  • At 11.00am a 24 hour curfew has been imposed, on MAIDUGURI in response to insurgent attacks, with only emergency vehicles given passage, normal flights to the Airport have resumed.
  • The Federal Government has proposed a special intervention programme which will focus on socio economic development in the North East. Implementation is dependent on the return of peace according to the President of the Federal Republic.
  • The National Emergency Management Agency is looking after 300 internally displaced persons from the MAIDUGURI attack

3 December:

  • GSM services were restored in MAIDUGURI, BORNO State. Thus far only MTN lines were functioning
  • BORNO State Government relaxed the 24 hour curfew to 7.00pm to 6.00am
  • The curfew in MUBI NORTH LGA and MUBI SOUTH LGA, ADAMAWA State has been extended to 7.00pm to 5.00am from 11.00pm to 5.00am

4 December:

  • The Federal High Court, LAGOS State barred journalists and the public from the trial of 17 Boko Haram suspects and permitted prosecution witnesses to be masked and the identities hidden. 
  • Defence Headquarters Joint Investigation Team states the security forces have detained 1,400 during counter insurgency operations of which 614 cases are still being reviewed and 500 it wishes to try on terrorism charges, amongst them are medical doctors, paramilitary and service personnel some of whom were fighting for the insurgents others who provided logistic and material support. 167 detained in MAIDUGURI, YOLA and DAMATURU have been recommended for release.
  • Nigerians and US official in ABUJA are discussing new security cooperation arrangements following the Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) designation by the US Government against Ansaru and Boko Haram. The US delegation included Ambassador Linda THOMAS-GREENFIELD (Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs), James ENWISTLE (US Ambassador to NIGERIA), General David RODRIGUEZ (AFRICOM Commander) and others. The Nigerian Delegation included Namadi SAMBO (Vice President of the Federal of Government of NIGERIA), Professor Viola ONWULIRI (Minister of Foreign Affairs), Senator Idris UMAR (Minister of Transport), , Ambassador Bashir YUGUDA( Minister of National Planning) and Professor Adebowale ADEFUYE (Nigerian Ambassador to the US)

Situation Enemy Forces:

2 December:

Around 2.45- 3.00am between 200-300 insurgents reportedly mounted in 23 Hilux trucks and a stolen military vehicle (presumed to be a VBL) launched a coordinated attack on MAIDUGURI with small arms, RPGs and IEDS; attacking the 79 Composite Group NAF based in a portion of MAIDUGURI International Airport, destroying 3 decommissioned MIG 21 aircraft, 2 operational Mi 24/35 variant helicopters and several vehicles.

333 Artillery Battalion was reportedly attacked with a VBIED and vehicles with heavy weapons mounted on them several of which were destroyed.

The insurgents also attacked the trailer park along DAMATURU-MAIDUGURI ROAD and military checkpoints such as PONPOMARI Outpost, NAF Headquarters Gate, Staff Quarters Outpost, 777 Estate in the vicinity of NJIMTILO.

DHQ report 24 insurgents killed and 2 NAF personnel wounded, unofficial sources put friendly casualties at approximately 20 killed.

The insurgents allegedly captured 9 vehicles from the DSS injuring 7 DSS men. They also captured an APC but abandoned it on the runway

7 Division responded with air strikes in and around the NAF Base in MAIDUGURI and JERE with fast jet and attack helicopters from NAF YOLA around 5.00am, with fighting continuing until 8.00am. Elements of 7 Div pursued the enemy towards the MAIDUGURI-BENISHEIK Road

At least 4 civilians were reported killed

Situation External Forces:                                                              

4 December: Nigerians and US official in ABUJA are discussing new security cooperation arrangements following the Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) designation by the US Government against Ansaru and Boko Haram. The US delegation included Ambassador Linda THOMAS-GREENFIELD (Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs), James ENWISTLE (US Ambassador to NIGERIA), General David RODRIGUEZ (AFRICOM Commander) and others. The Nigerian Delegation included Namadi Sambo (Vice President of the Federal of Government of NIGERIA), Professor Viola ONWULIRI (Minister of Foreign Affairs), Senator Idris UMAR (Minister of Transport), , Ambassador Bashir YUGUDA( Minister of National Planning) and Professor Adebowale ADEFUYE (Nigerian Ambassador to the US)

Statistics

Table 1 Casualties

 

Killed

Wounded

Missing/ Detained

NPF/DSS

0??

7??

??

Military

20??

2??

??

Total NSF

??

??

??

Vigilantes

0

0

0

Insurgents

24??

??

Male:  

??

Female:

??

Civilian

4  

??

0  

 

Table 4 Insurgent incidents

Insurgent Incidents

 

IED

Vehicle IED

Suicide IED

Small Arms

Small arms+IED

Other wpns

Theft

Kidnapping

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

 

Analysis:

An Airport too Far: Boko Haram launched a company strength attack against one of the most important strategic targets in Borno State. They not only massed 200-300 (or 500 according to some) men on foot, motorcycles and vehicles; they got to the base, penetrated it, and destroyed buildings, vehicles and aircraft.

It was a devastating, well planned and well executed operation.

The issue here is less that they attacked the air base, they would have been foolish not to. No army is immune to having its strategic bases attacked as the attack on Marine Air Wing in Camp Bastion by the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban attack on Mehran Naval Air Station in Karachi, or even the attacks on the US Embassy during the Tet offensive in Vietnam show. The issue is that they attacked it in force; all the aforementioned attacks were infiltrations using stealth and deception to gain access.

The attack on Maiduguri was a mass attack by mechanised forces approaching with massed vehicles under the cover of darkness. In other words a target that should have been easily detected and destroyed.

This is as much a Boko Haram success as a Nigerian failure, thus we will look at it from both sides of the map and from the strategic, operational and tactical perspectives.

Enemy:

Tactical: the enemy reportedly fought with skill and with such tenacity that it took air strikes on and around the base itself to dislodge them. They then managed to withdraw in some sort of order back to their safe areas.

Thus Boko Haram was able to infiltrate hundreds of men and dozens of vehicles over 50-60km, launch a coordinated night attack, penetrate several bases long enough to steal vehicles and burn buildings and withdraw whilst under air attack.

These are military skills somewhat beyond a few hundred peasants and escaped prisoners with rusty AK 47s. There is a step change in skill level similar to the sudden deployment of VBIEDS in 2011 that hints that either Boko Haram has a strategic reserve they’ve been hiding away somewhere or they are drawing skill and resource from elsewhere.

Operational: Boko Haram has shown that

  • They have the ability to plan and execute complex coordinated attacks
  • They have the ability to coordinate a large number of men in order to attack multiple targets, in the absence of mobile phones (i.e. they possess some other means of communications)
  • They have the ability to infiltrate men, arms and ammunition despite the checkpoints and state of emergency
  • They have the ability to generate sufficient armed men to launch mass attacks
  • They have a level of discipline and motivation that belies a force mainly reliant on coercion, the men who took part in this attack still have the will to fight and were motivated by more than fear be it money, religious fervour or desperation
  • The enemy has sufficient operational vehicles hidden away that it can throw them away in an attack of this sort
  • They have captured sufficient uniforms to be able to successfully masquerade as soldiers

Strategic

The pattern of recent attacks sees the enemy generating at least one spectacular attack or mass casualty event in a 3-4 week period, which they are worryingly able to sustain despite the military pressure. Initially attacks such as Benisheikh were viewed as angry spoiling attacks but those on Damaturu and Maiduguri would need a level of planning and coordination that can’t just happen on demand. We do not know how many spectaculars have been prevented but the ones that got through did so to devastating effect.

The dynamic of this conflict is as ever fascinating, it is difficult to say with certitude what the enemies tactics or strategy will be but it is the opinion of this reviewer that there is a strong correlation between the alleged ransom payment for the French family kidnapped in February, the fighting in CAR and the use of Northern Cameroun as a safe area. This is Boko Haram’s first year as an aggressive rural force, so one cannot say what effect dry season, fighting in CAR, the French intervention to the North West and South East of this theatre will have but the enemy has clearly regained the initiative.

Friendly:

The NSF has suffered a fairly embarrassing reverse. Why?

Tactical:

Combat power: apparently there were only 20 men protecting the NAF base, a fairly ridiculous number of men, however even 20 men, properly equipped in well built, well sited, fortified positions will defeat, degrade or at least delay an overwhelming enemy. However the failure to provide adequate troops to task is a failure of command.

Operational

Intelligence: there are reports that a warning came through 3 days ago but was ignored. Whether true or not for such an attack to be launched the enemy needed to carry out reconnaissance, gather arms, ammunition, recce staging areas, approach routes, withdrawal routes, form up, attack and withdraw. At each of these stages there would have been opportunities to discern the enemies’ intentions.

Base protection: for a base of that importance, concentric layers of security would have been expected if not required yet enemy forces got through without being detected. In a well defended base such a large number of attackers would have been engaged long before they even got to the perimeter.

Key asset protection: attack helicopters are scarce battle winning assets, yet they were parked in the open next to a perimeter wall facing a main road, there was apparently no defence plan that prioritised protecting or defending the helicopters or even getting them airborne. What is the chain of command for the helicopters and whose responsibility was it to protect them?

Strategic

The enemy has shown skill resolve and an almost limitless capability to adapt, absorb punishment and retaliate. This is not an ordinary foe and the Boko Haram of Mohammed Yusuf is not the one being faced today. This force has a capability beyond its roots and this attack crystallises several issues.

Cameroun: the Kanuri people spill over the border into Cameroun, Chad and Niger. The ethno-linguistic links and the legacy of the Kanem-Borno Empire are strong. Mohammed Nur of the UN bombing fame is Camerounian. The Camerounian armed forces are not geared up or mobilised to counter the threat of insurgents or their safe areas in the Far North and the enemy exploits this. The internal tensions in Cameroun between the government of the aged long sitting Christian, Francophone President Biya and the under developed, desertifying Islamic North are again something that the Camerounian Government does not wish to highlight and bring to a head. However this is now Cameroun’s war whether they like it or not, the kidnappings of French nationals and use of Camerounian territory have only one outcome, an eventual contamination of Cameroun’s Far North Region that will yield a local fundamentalist group either by the radicalisation of Camerounian Muslim youth or the setting up shop of displaced Boko Haram in the Far North Region, supplemented by Chadian, Central African and other Islamist fighters.

Unity of Command: the formation of 7 Division was meant to solve the diverse chain of command issues that ad hoc task forces throw up. This does not seem to have happened, with competing chains of command, failure to share or coordinate intelligence and resources. The Federal Government needs to resolve this situation. All units and agencies in the theatre must be suborned to a single chain of command, whether through AHQ, DHQ or the NSA or even NYSC. It is imperative

Command responsibility: Nigerian soldiers and citizens died because somebody somewhere did not properly defend Maiduguri and somebody somewhere possibly failed to act on warnings. Somebody somewhere is responsible whether by omission or commission and should be held accountable. A board of enquiry into this situation should be held and the guilty parties punished to the extent of military law. This is not a witch hunt but military discipline and professionalism is founded on the harsh consequences of failure (i.e. death and injury) and there needs to be an accounting.

Intelligence coordination: I am not sure how intelligence is coordinated in Nigeria or in the North East but it is imperative that it is better joined up with all facets brought in and tied together and better regional cooperation particularly with the Lake Chad states.

An Airport too far: forgive the writer for engaging in hyperbolic cliché and referencing one of my favourite books but this might indeed be an attack too far. The US has correctly assessed that Boko Haram is not an existential strategic threat to Nigeria or to US interests in Nigeria or West Africa and has sought to do very little beyond make gentle soothing noises due (one would presume) to a combination of war weariness, lack of clear tangible wins for the US, exasperation with Nigerian politics and an inability to actually derive leverage any assistance into influence within the Nigeria Government. It is also the case the Nigeria itself, has been less than clear about what it actually wants from the international community in this conflict. However Boko Haram has demonstrated a continuing trend of exponential capability leaps and despite virtually constant air and ground attacks and large losses have hit a strategic military target at will. Although they would be hard pressed to seriously threaten the oil producing or industrial south they have shown an ability and resilience that could conceivably threaten Abuja (conceivably not practically). The US with its surveillance assets in Niger and space in all probability has a fairly good idea of the challenges facing Nigeria and the opportunities a strong, credible Boko Haram presents to Sahelian and now Central African fundamentalist groups. I suspect that US equipment and training will soon start to filter Nigeria’s way. Properly delivered and used these inputs could significantly damage Boko Haram.

Conclusion

There are very little immediate positives from this attack other than GSM services have being restored; meaning people no longer need to ply dangerous highways just to make phone calls and can call for help or pass on information to the authorities.

In the longer term the Federal Government ought to be able to parlay this disaster into a lucrative pitch to the US, for the surplus kit being brought back from Afghanistan, hopefully cultivating the lobbying efforts by the manufacturers and suppliers who will be eyeing the lucrative maintenance and upgrade contracts to follow, Nigeria can put in persuasive bids for surplus recce and troop carrying vehicles, helicopters, counter IED kit saving huge capital costs and more importantly hard worn knowledge and experience.

The enemy has regained the initiative, friendly forces must absorb this defeat and accept the lessons learned in order to move on and defeat the enemy.

This was attack was a tactical and propaganda victory for Boko Haram, so it would be churlish not acknowledge this, so to Boko Haram; ‘Well done, good effort, enjoy it while it lasts’.

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About peccavi

A Nigerian with interests in defence, security, geopolitics, the military particularly small unit tactics, COIN, stabilisation and asymmetric warfare
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